The Tolltaker

Guest Post: Rotoscoping Allows The Tolltaker to Roam the Earth – Steve Janas

We’re really excited to feature a guest post from Steve Janas today! Steve is the director of short film The Tolltaker and is sharing a great piece about a technique used within the film called rotoscoping. You can see the full film over at Vimeo.

Rotoscoping Allows The Tolltaker to Roam the Earth – Steve Janas

What dark magic is it that makes the eponymous fiend wander his dismal, subterranean catacombs in the animated short The Tolltaker? Alas, the name alone’s not apt to inspire vivid acts of imagination: it’s called rotoscoping.

Although it’s now done on computers, the process dates back to 1917, when animation pioneer Max Fleischer invented it to turn his brother David into Koko the Clown, Fleischer’s signature creation. It gets its name from the type of projector that Fleischer developed to create the effect. The image would be projected onto a sheet of frosted glass, on the other side of which an artist would be tracing the image’s outlines, one frame after another, literally turning reality into cartoons.

During the 1930’s, rotoscoping inserted a dancing Cab Calloway into Betty Boop cartoons and made a proto version of Superman fly in an early animated serial. It also found frequent use in the Soviet Union, where it appealed to social realist sensibilities in vogue at the time.

Contemporary American animation fans will easily be able to spot the process in films like Heavy Metal and Richard Linklater’s mind-bender A Scanner Darkly (which, incidentally, shares a member of its animation crew with Tolltaker: Philly-based animator Monique Ligons)It also created the surreal, pencil-sketch world of one of the most iconic music videos of the 1980’s: Take On Me, by Norwegian band Aha.

The king of American rotoscoping is indisputably Ralph Bakshi, whose animated features were trippy, violent and at times downright pornographic. Beginning with his profane Fritz The Cat in 1972, Bakshi made a total of seven feature films, including genre classics likeWizards and an early, animated version of Lord of the Rings, which earned him a dedicated, world-wide following.

The Tolltaker has about two minutes of rotoscoping, which was created by a team of animators who turned the first floor of director Steve Janas’s Philadelphia-area townhouse into an ad hoc studio. Running the show (the animated portion of it, anyway) was co-producer Lavinia DeCastro, who chose as her lieutenant a fellow graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia named Jake Hoisington. They both oversaw a total of around a dozen animators, working on laptops set up on folding tables in Janas’s living and dining rooms.

To explain the specific way the rotoscoping process is used in The Tolltaker, Hosington hosts a short, two-minute feature seen at the end of the article.

The Tolltaker tells the story of a young boy named Bobby growing up in Northeast Philadelphia in the early 1970’s, in the aftermath of Vietnam, whose increasingly desperate belief that he’ll see his MIA father alive again rests on a cheap metal charm bracelet, inscribed with his father’s name, that he wears on his wrist. Unfortunately, this is the very prize sought by the Tolltaker, a corpse-like ghoul that Bobby encounters on an expedition into a local drain pipe.

Author: Donna Brown Donna is a longtime book lover and sometime book reviewer and has devoured books from an early age. She writes short (or long) stories as and when inspiration hits and is married to fantasy author David M. Brown (Fezariu's Epiphany, A World Apart). She was also co-contributor to David's book, Man vs Cat, a humorous look at life with six rambunctious rescue cats. Donna has lived in many different areas of the UK over the last 30-something years but has remained in Yorkshire for the past decade. She ardently disputes the misnomer that 'It's grim up north'.

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0 Responses to "Guest Post: Rotoscoping Allows The Tolltaker to Roam the Earth – Steve Janas"

  1. Ormand Barrington
    Ormand Barrington 3 years ago .Reply

    It's never a bore to read about the history of animation and how it all started. The video had interesting accounts on their personal opinion about art and its mind-boggling how they do their jobs everyday without seemingly losing inspiration at all.

  2. Jeff
    Jeff 3 years ago .Reply

    Rotoscoping.. hmm… interesting! It's amazing how one thing can be so widespread, yet unknown at the same time.

  3. […] Guest Post: Rotoscoping Allows The Tolltaker to Roam the Earth – Steve Janas Share the scrawl! Posted in Guest Post Tagged Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Art Institute of Philadelphia, Bobby Burke, Max Fleischer, Ralph Bakshi, Richard Linklater, Scanner Darkly, Short film permalink […]

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  1. […] Guest Post: Rotoscoping Allows The Tolltaker to Roam the Earth – Steve Janas Share the scrawl! Posted in Guest Post Tagged Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Art Institute of Philadelphia, Bobby Burke, Max Fleischer, Ralph Bakshi, Richard Linklater, Scanner Darkly, Short film permalink […]